Let me take you back to mid-February 2020 when I was invited to visit the new headmaster of my former school to talk “marketing”.

The world seemed to be ticking along fine at that point, but with the murmurs of some new virus in China starting to spread.  Still, few feared it reaching our shores. While I was there, the subject of alumni and the school’s development plans kept featuring - a new alumni website, and a dedicated database were mentioned.

It was a most useful day as I also got to meet with the marketing, development and, briefly, admissions staff to get their views on the subject. As a bonus, I got to revisit many parts of the school which brought back a flood of memories. Had it really been 27 years since I had left?

"The school must have been doing a fine job to create that special pupil-school bond."

On my journey home, I reflected on the day and my thoughts took me back to the early nineties at the school. From the alumni perspective, I recalled how a surprisingly high number of pupils had essentially come to this school because either a parent, relative or close friend of the family had studied there. I never thought much about this while at school but of course now, reflecting back, this can be translated as a “development activity that is working”.

The school must have been doing a fine job to nurture their children, to create that special pupil-school bond. But from my own alumni experience of the past years, it has been the ongoing and relevant communication with me, a single old boy out of thousands that have since left, that has kept me engaged with the school.

Of course, with the introduction of a new alumni website and database the targeting can now be taken up another notch. The past pupils of today will start to be engaged with the content that interests them and delivered in a format that suits. This is the key to holding their attention over time: making sure they are involved with the school activity which appeals to them.

If we read between the lines of my school visit, you can see we need two key things to ensure that the school creates its loyal advocates, to help contribute to the future success of the school.

"Pupils of the past can be constantly reminded of the positives of their educational experience."

Firstly, there needs to be a positive and fulfilling learning experience that creates those lasting memories that alumni will want to cherish forever. Secondly, there needs to be the ongoing contact, invitations (to events/clubs) and support that is both relevant and personalised to that particular alumni, to ensure that they remain totally connected.

So, through drip feed personalised contact, pupils of the past can be constantly reminded of the positives of their educational experience, what life skills and values they developed while at school.

Fast forward to the point of when their children (or my children) reach school age, the school may well have become part of their family fabric. The next steps into the school admission cycle are perhaps inevitable.

For school marketing and development personnel, good alumni relations can lead to a constant source of new and known pupils.  For independent schools, the potential future business alumni can create either through their own children or those of their contacts should not be underestimated.

"During the pandemic I even heard of  an extremely wealthy old boy offering to buy his school."

Of course, there are other positive benefits too, such as the range of support and help this group can offer the school. This might include sharing experiences, giving talks, mentoring current pupils – essentially investing their time. They might also be in a position to donate to support or sponsor the school or their charitable causes.

During the pandemic I even heard of one unusual story where an extremely wealthy old boy offered to buy his school (we are talking millions) as he just could not bear to see it end and his memories with it. This serves as the ultimate example of how alumni can be made to feel connected — taking the words “loyal advocate” to a whole new level.

All independent schools have their own uniqueness and have the ability to achieve and create this continual “feeling” of connection. The secret is to make this special group feel connected with their own school memories and at the same time a big part of the school’s future.

Read about a new campaign to encourage schools to embrace their alumni and share their stories here.